Trump bans Zambian elephant trophy imports, “I didn’t want elephants killed..”

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President Trump has confirmed, in an interview airing Sunday night with the British journalist and animal advocate Piers Morgan, that he has directed his administration to ban the import of hunting trophies from African elephants and other rare wildlife from Zimbabwe and Zambia. Trump’s commitment, the best single action he’s taken on animal welfare during his term in office, contradicts the maneuver, according to the president, “from a very high level government person” to resume imports of hunting trophies and give the green light to American hunters to target these animals. The president called the decision by that individual “terrible.”

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In November, after Trump learned about a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to allow imports of tusks and heads of elephants and lions from two African countries, he called for putting a hold on the decision, calling trophy hunting of elephants and other animals “a horror show.” His declaration to Piers Morgan airing today confirms that he’s sticking with his initial decision. In December, a U.S. Court of Appeals held that the process the Fish and Wildlife Service used to authorize the imports of elephants and lions from Zimbabwe and Zambia was invalid, and The HSUS has filed a lawsuit to ensure that those decisions are taken off the books.

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“I didn’t want elephants killed and stuffed and have the tusks brought back into this [country] and people can talk all they want about preservation and all of the things that they’re saying where money goes towards ― well, money was going ― in that case, going to a government which was probably taking the money, OK?,” the president said in comments first obtained and reported by The Huffington Post.

African elephants and African lions are protected under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act, and their populations have been in steep and steady decline, as a consequence of a variety of human-caused factors, including trade in the parts of these animals. The primary tool the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services invokes to influence outcomes on the ground for foreign-listed species under the authority of the Endangered Species Act is to restrict imports of parts of animals into the United States. In short, if American trophy hunters cannot import the heads, tusks, and hides of the animals, they are unlikely to kill them in the first place.

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Keeping elephants and lions alive is a key to economic progress in so many African nations. Millions of tourists trek to natural areas throughout Africa to see elephants, lions, and the extraordinary wildlife on the continent, collectively contributing billions to the economies of wildlife-rich nations. Trophy hunters, who are dramatically fewer in number than wildlife watchers, generate minuscule dollars in relative terms. What’s more, trophy hunting robs these nations of their greatest resources, diminishing the wildlife-watching experiences of so many tourists. Any U.S. sanctioning of trophy hunting sends a particularly contradictory message at a time when the world has been rallying to save elephants and lions.

A number of African nations, including Botswana, Kenya, and Rwanda, ban all trophy hunting.

In early December 2017, The HSUS commissioned a national survey of American attitudes, revealing that by a margin of more than five to one, respondents oppose allowing American trophy hunters to import tusks and heads into the United States. The survey showed that 78 percent of American voters oppose elephant and lion imports, with 15 percent taking a contrary view. Those trophy imports are opposed by 76 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Democrats, and 75 percent of non-partisan voters.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should heed sentiment and science and formally prohibit such imports for elephant, lions, leopards, and other threatened and endangered species across the board. We hope the Trump administration will forbid elephant and lion imports from all other African countries where American trophy hunters kill these animals for their tusks, and that includes Cameroon, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Tanzania.

We don’t allow trophy hunting of threatened or endangered species living in the United States, and there’s no logical reason to recognize it and enable it as a tool for dealing with foreign-listed threatened and endangered species.

Our intolerance for animal cruelty, especially when it is purposeful, wasteful, and done for boastful, selfish purposes like trophy hunting and dogfighting, is an American characteristic that binds us together as a nation and is something we should be proud of. President Trump has keenly tapped into this American value by imposing a ban on the imports of trophy-hunted elephants and lions from two countries, and we hope that’s just a start.

The Humane Society of the United States

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